Posts Tagged ‘value proposition’

Why so much “BoP” marketing fails in the developing world

Consumer electronics stall in informal market, Nairobi Kenya 23 January 2012

Increasingly I have been getting the sense that there are some fundamental issues with the way BoP focused organizations are developing, creating and implementing their market entry strategies.  Here are four of the most obvious errors that I’m seeing:

Assuming there’s no competition

Most of these firms, particularly those coming in from the outside and seeking to serve the ‘poor’ in the developing world seem to be operating in a vacuum. Observing their market entry actions point to an underlying assumption that they are entering a virgin market where  no competing solutions for their product or service exist.  If this fundamental premise is mistaken then every element of their marketing, communication, distribution and pricing strategy will naturally suffer.

A caveat here is that it might indeed be a virgin market for branded international solutions in the formal market but this is where overlooking the informal markets and existing practices in user behaviour can be far more dangerous since this is where the competition will come from in the form of substitutes or alternate solutions.

Because of the above assumption, little effort is made to uncover information about the customer, the market or competition or the operating environment. Whether this is due to a vacuum of information on BoP markets or the developing world, or this subject simply not being taken into consideration, the fact remains that this oversight then gives rise to a series of errors (like the domino effect) – those in marketing strategy viz., marketing communications, value propositions and positioning not to mention pricing.

Conflating company mission with marketing strategy

While this is most commonly found among well meaning social enterprises entering these markets for the first time with their life saving products for the poor, large multinationals with previous experience in the developing world are not immune the minute they choose to focus particularly on the BoP (or poor) market.

Tata Nano is the most obvious example of this although here one wonders how much of this had to do with their actual marketing communications and advertising for the Nano and how much to do with all the media hype around the car being specially for the ‘common man’? All the positioning and branding in the world through formal advertising and communication channels could not overcome the public perception of the ‘poor man’s car’ created by every other article – from engineering news to international styling – on the Nano.

Similarly, if all the marketing communications, press reports and online information is geared towards the ‘poverty alleviating” mission of the company then this lack of clear focus or understanding of who the target audience is will come through in the positioning and branding of the product in the marketplace.  And no one will aspire to buy the ‘poor man’s product’ if it means a clear signal of having failed to succeed or admitting defeat among their friends and neighbours.

Confusing value proposition with need

This lack of clarity and understanding about the target audience for a product or service and thus, its marketing communications and messaging then snowballs into incorrect positioning of the product or incorrectly identifying the value proposition for the end user.

The end result might be the same – the customer choosing to buy your product – but the pain points may differ tremendously across geographies and regions, not to mention socioeconomic strata. An example is water saving flush toilet mechanisms being sold in Nairobi as a sustainable, greener alternative – that is, the same positioning and value proposition as that used in the eco-conscious parts of the Northern European continent. Sales are sluggish. But when you take into consideration that there is a water shortage or that many communities need to purchase water in tankers to fill their household storage tanks, a simple shift in positioning to “Spend less money flushing down the toilet” or some such clever quip could in fact make a more sensible approach in this situation for the very same product.

This gets more obvious the lower down the income stream you go – Mama Mboga with her vegetable stand may not have the same priorities nor relate to the same value propositions that social impact investors do.

Overestimating the ability of a faceless brand to communicate value

There is probably a snappier sentence to capture this aspect but at this stage of understanding the BoP markets and their challenges its perhaps better to be clear than pithy.  Some have called this issue one of Trust and in the past, I’ve referred to it as Commitment but the fact remains that this aspect is the most challenging and difficult to overcome as a barrier to acceptance.

Even megabrands accustomed to instant global recognition such as Google may find that not only is their brand unknown and unheard of in these new and emerging markets but others may have gotten there before them.  Which, in a way, brings us back to the first point in the assumptions made at the very beginning of considering market entry strategies in the rising global middle class.

Social enterprises and the target audience for their value propositions

It struck me while browsing through some ‘design for social impact’ product websites recently that while their focus might be on the poor, their communication and messaging was geared towards the Western or top of the pyramid audience.  I’d rather not link to nor name names, select your favourite cookstove/solar lantern/water purifier social enterprise and look at it from the point of view of their intended customers – the erstwhile poor in the developing world.

Their marketing communications tend to look and feel no different from that of the big name charitable organizations – big eyed brown child seeking your help to drink water/study/eat food etc.

Whats the problem, you say, these are well meant start ups and they need all the help we can give them to get these wonderful life changing products out to make that better world for the 99% er 90%, whatever?

The problem comes down to the value propositions that these organizations identify as being critical for their target audience.

“Cooking with cow dung gives Mrs Rajarani terrible hacking coughs everyday, SupercleanCookStove helps ensure her lungs are healthy enough to do all the housework”*

“Kerosene emits enough noxious fumes to equal smoking 2 packs of filthy cigarettes a day, our CleanFreshBriteLite takes over the burden of keeping encroaching darkness away”*

et cetera

Where’s the problem, you continue asking me, these products are well designed modern technology that will help alleviate these side effects?

Agreed, but is the value proposition being made one that resonates with you, dear reader on the broadband internet, browsing their photoshopped website, ready to donate a few extra lamps/stoves/watercoolers or one that will resonate with their intended customer?

Who is the customer? What do they want? What value proposition resonates with them?

And how many entrepreneurs have been frustratedly asking “Why aren’t they putting down good money for this fantastic product of mine?

Because the demand being addressed by these messages is not that of the target audience, who are ultimately the ones for whom these products are made.

Everyday, research shows that the barriers to adoption include:

Improved cookstoves rank poorly on all three dimensions: their benefits are rarely valued highly by customers at the outset, they are expensive, and they require a significant change in lifestyle to be put into use.

Lets start with benefits alone – which is where the topic of identifying the correct value propositions for the target audience comes in. If your messaging and marketing is all about the best selling drill addressing an audience of home improvement contractors but what your actual customers need is a hole in the wall, how will you manage to bridge this gap in communication when you face your customers directly?

By focusing on the value propositions – be they environmental, healthcare related or otherwise – meant for every other stakeholder but the end users aka the customers of the product themselves – organizations may never quite identify nor refine the benefits as they relate to the poor customer, in the context of their lives, and their decision to purchase and use the said products.

To quote an old post about the Tata Group’s approach to low income customers,

Their primary criteria – as a business – for the design and development of this product was to take the concept of the Bottom of the Pyramid as a viable demographic to serve, setting the design criteria and constraints for both the product itself as well as their revenue model and pricing structure accordingly. The fact that it will “do good” or “improve life” is as important but this aspect has not been permitted to overshadow the need for the product to be competitively priced and attractive to the consumer, offering value for their hard earned rupee, even as it prevents their children from suffering from diarrhea.

By taking their BoP customers as seriously as they would any other demographic, they focus on delivering a clearly identified and on target customer value proposition, thus a clearly defined benefit, to the end user. This aspect will show up in their marketing and communications as well.

What strikes me the most is that these are the basics of marketing and strategy, imparted in any MBA program around the world.

*exaggerated to amuse myself